Back in January we took a much-needed long weekend trip to Istanbul. It’s a relatively short 5.5 hour flight from Tashkent on Turkish Airlines, and we gain time flying there, so it’s a very nice option. We found ourselves a bit light on the internet connectivity due to issues with the hotel wi-fi and the oddities of Turkish cell service, but sometimes when you travel that’s for the best–it causes you to be more present and focused on the experiences. At the same time it makes it tough use all the wonderful online resources you’ve found to make your trip easier and more fulfilling, such as maps, public transportation guides, and brilliant tips from other traveling bloggers.
I’d been to Istanbul once before, so I had a sense of the city, its neighborhoods, and its navigation. On this visit we chose a hotel within a 5 minutes’ walk to the major sites in the Old City, also known as Sultanahmet. I’d had excellent luck with the site Booking.com in the past, and it has an amazing array of options in Istanbul. I’ve found the traveler reviews to be very reliable, and often the rates are impossible to match elsewhere. We booked into the Hotel Seraglio, and were greeted with a straight-on view of the Blue Mosque from our balcony. Both mornings we woke when the call to prayer floated through our windows and then softly fell back asleep for another couple of hours.
In preparation for our trip I spent some time with the excellent team over at Eating Asia. This pair have spent a good deal of time in Istanbul and their recommendations for taming the city, its transport, and its incredible selection of edibles is authoritative. I also found serious tips from the folks at Serious Eats, one of my favorite food sites. And the definitive food guide to Istanbul has to be Istanbul Eats, which offers a fantastic app called Culinary Backstreets. But of course, one’s data plan needs to work well to make use of this bounty and mine…didn’t.
When I first visited Istanbul I picked up a sim card for my phone at the airport and happily navigated my way around. I was even able to use my Android phone as a hotspot for my iPad, so techy am I! This time I picked up a new sim card, not being able to find the old one, told the lovely Vodaphone folks I needed a data plan, and off I went. Three hours later the phone still wasn’t working, so we found another Vodaphone outlet and learned the weird intricacies of Turkey’s cell phone policies. Apparently once you use a foreign mobile in Turkey for a 10 day period you can never use it there again unless you register it with whatever agency registers foreign mobiles. Huh. So we popped the sim in my husband’s phone and finally had some connectivity. Next trip to Turkey I guess one of us has to buy a new phone!
All our preparation paid off, and in 2.5 days we managed to see Ayasofya, the Basilica Cistern, the outdoor Tarlaba?? Sunday market, have sahlep and rest our weary feet at the Grand Bazaar, buy spices (and were gifted “Turkish “) in the Spice Bazaar, cruise the Bosphorus, photograph around Galata Tower, visit two hamams (it was a very cold weekend!), climb the hills into the Cihangir neighborhood (twice!) for some delicious and traditional Turkish food, wander parts of Istiklal, and eat tons of meze and fish. I’m certain I spent at least $10 on fresh orange and pomegranate juice, too.
For all the benefits of online maps and other resources, in the end, I would have given a ridiculous sum of money for a laminated Streetwise Istanbul. As effective as online navigation can be, sometimes there’s no substitute for a map in the hand as you explore the unfamiliar nooks and crannies of a new place.
Note: a version of this post appeared at another blog I’ve contributed to.